The Lebanese Shiite Hizballah terror group is usually described as a radical Islamic militia. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military experts, Hizballah is in fact a unique manifestation in modern military history and a standout on the terrorist scene.
It is in fact a rigidly regimented regular army in very sense which, together with its reserve units, numbers 20-25,000 trained men. They are organized in brigades, each capable of autonomous operation and all under a single central command.
The Hizballah army belongs to no state but to a religious organization. It is the most disciplined force in the Middle East, whose troops are also rated high for bravery and willingness to fight to the last bullet. An Israeli officer who faced Hizballah in hand-to-hand combat told DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources this week that, in his view, Hizballah has produced a new breed of Muslim-Arab fighter in the Middle East. “They fight like lions,” he said, “And their structure and methods of warfare contribute to their extreme discipline and fighting prowess.
The Hizballah organization brings every Shiite village and urban neighborhood into its fold under the governance of the local “security committee.” This is a form of local command office that keeps the regular army of 6,000 men strictly in line. The heads of these local committees train as officers for six months at officers schools of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, followed by specialist courses of three to four months in such military disciplines as intelligence, rockets and commando techniques.
Upon returning home, they are kept in close touch with the RGs – either through the Iranian officers posted at the Iranian embassy in Beirut or visiting RG officers who come through Damascus to keep an eye on their Hizballah subordinates and help them solve logistical or even personal problems, such as medical difficulties or lack of a living income.
These Revolutionary Guards supervisors also hunt for talented Hizballah officer or NCO trainees to be sent for advanced tuition. After basic training at the Baalbek or Lebanese Beqaa training facilities, they qualify for three months of expert instruction in Iran as anti-tank rocket operators, communications experts, mortar-men, saboteurs, or paramedics.
Every Hizballah fighting man is made conscious that he is the link in a dual chain of command made up of his immediate commander who defers to Hassan Nasrallah and a supreme command level, which consists of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and has the supreme ruler of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, at its apex.
This duality came into play during the Lebanon war, when Imad Mughniyeh, deputy secretary general of Hizballah, was appointed to lead the war effort in the south. (See HOT POINTS)
The Hizballah combatant’s dual loyalties to Nasrallah and Tehran
Every Hizballah combatant was fully aware that, while Mughniyeh ranks formally as Nasrallah’s lieutenant, he is in fact so high up in Iran’s ruling hierarchy that his orders come straight from Khamenei in person. His appointment therefore signified to Hizballah’s rank and file that Tehran had not forgotten their dedication in confronting the Israeli army and would look after them and their families as a reward.
Each local “security committee” is aided by two additional bodies – taabiya (recruitment office), which is charge of army reservists. These men are taken away three days a month for refresher training. They also keep their personal firearms at home, even if they are heavy machine guns or mortars, so that when summoned for duty by their “security committee” they are ready to report at a moment’s notice.
The taabiya corps is estimated to be 7,000 to 10,000 strong.
The other body attached to the “security committee” is the mutfaririn (paramilitaries), a loose force of 10,000 to 15,000 irregulars who are called up as needed for home front duties such as manning roadblocks, guarding arms stores and Hizballah office premises, or securing mass meetings of Hizballah followers.
No one knows exactly how many of these irregulars actually fight on the front against Israel.
Hizballah also maintains a special operations force of five companies of 150 to 250 men each. They are trained at the RG marine bases in Iran and instructed in commando techniques by Iranian intelligence.
In times of calm, they serve as bodyguards for Hizballah chiefs. They also undertake hit operations against their enemies. In wartime, they operate behind enemy lines.
These commandoes carried out two missions in the current Lebanon war and were commended for their performance.
One company crossed into Israel on July 10 or 11, spent 24 or 48 hours on the Israeli side of the border undetected and, on July 12, attacked an Israel patrol, killed 8 of its members and abducted two men, so sparking the current war.
A second company confronted Israeli troops in Bin Jubeil in southern Lebanon. In the first week of the war, an Israeli unit captured a large part of the village and cleared it out of Hizballah fighters. Nasrallah then sent this commando company to raid the village and force an Israeli withdrawal with heavy losses. Three weeks later, the fighting there is not over and still exacting a heavy toll.
Hizballah also maintains three rocket brigades, the militia’s artillery arm.
It is composed of the Nassar Brigade which is armed with Iranian and Syrian 107 mm and 220 mm Katyusha rockets; the Khaibar-1 Brigade (named for the Muhammed’s battle against the Jews of Medina), which uses an array of medium range missiles – from the Iranian-made Naziyat, the Syrian 302 mm Katyusha with a range of 110 km, the Fajer-5 with a similar range, and the Zelzal-1 surface missile which can reach a target at a distance of 120 km.
The third brigade has an arsenal of long-range Zelzal-2 missiles whose range of 250 km. Two weeks ago, Iran sent Hizballah a supply of improved Zelzal missiles capable of hitting targets 450 km away (including Israel’s nuclear reactor in Dimona.)